Monday, 31 October 2011

R.I.P. Charlie Dog

Today is Hallowe’en, 'All Hallows' Eve' or the ‘Day of the Dead’. This time last year we were in Slovakia, walking round a cemetery at dusk, discussing how the hundreds of lit candles made such an evocative sight and how the atmosphere was peaceful and contemplative rather than sad. It seems a fitting day to post about our travelling companion, Charlie, the ‘dog who came too’.

Charlie at Happisburgh - one of our favourite camping places

Just one week after moving into our new home in Cambridgeshire, we had to say goodbye to our lovely old chap. He had accompanied us on our travels around Europe, viewing the journey from his very own seat, on one occasion causing much annoyance to a Romanian peasant woman who couldn’t understand why our mini-bus wouldn’t stop for her, but had a dog as a passenger.

Before the ‘big trip’ we knew Charlie had a lump growing on his leg. We discussed it with the vet, and although we didn’t know for sure what it was, we came to the conclusion that an operation would be invasive and risky for an elderly dog and that quality of life was far better than quantity. Over the year away it grew larger, so that by the time we reached Greece and Italy it was quite a talking point and Rob had to learn the vocabulary to debate it with interested passers-by.

The lump didn’t bother Charlie at all. He was lively, loved his food and his walks, was the most loving of dogs towards us and his usual cantankerous old self to the occasional dog who didn’t take his fancy. However, it continued to grow, and a couple of days before we moved he somehow grazed it, and the graze soon turned into a nasty wound.

We dressed it, but dogs just won’t leave bandages alone. We put a large conical collar on him, and took him to the emergency vet as soon as we moved into our new house. This led then to a specialist clinic near Newmarket, where the worst was diagnosed. Poor old Charlie dog did indeed have cancer and although we looked at all the choices, there was little prospect of a happy outcome.

We could not put our old chum through that, and with the wound clearly not going to heal we took the hard choice of euthanasia for our beloved pet. We hugged him to the end and though making the decision was truly awful we know we did what was best for our lovely dog.

Charlie at the Cregennan Lakes, North Wales, another of our favourite places.

Monday, 10 October 2011

On the move….to a new house

We’re on the move again, but it’s not a trip in the van this time. On Friday 26th August we moved house from Narborough near Leicester, to a small village south of Cambridge.

Narborough views

We moved to Leicester in 1986, and soon after to Narborough. I remember us saying at the time that we’d probably stay for a ‘couple of years’, which eventually turned into 25. Narborough was a nice place to live, and Leicester has many good things and places that I grew quite fond of over the years, but we had a strong feeling that now, after our big trip last year and all the breaks with routine that that represented, was the right time to move on.

Leicester - clock tower

 Leicester - Turkey Cafe

As the house went on the market I (Rob) got myself out and about in Leicester through the summer, taking photos - a mix of common and less-common views of the city. We also began our search for a house further south. Something which could take our furniture and which we could afford.

Leicester – riverside walk, Victoria Park and the market

We chose south Cambridgeshire as it was closer, just 20 miles away, from family (better than the 90 miles from Leicester), and Cambridge sounded like as interesting a place as any to base a new life around. The move went through quicker and more smoothly than we could have imagined at the start, and despite major attacks of last-minute doubts, the 26th saw us looking out of our window at the crack of dawn for a large S.J.Sharpe removals van.

The move begins

I have to say our hearts sank when we saw a small Luton bearing their logo drive past, but thankfully it just contained the extra guys they brought along for an hour and a half of intensive loading, and soon the massive truck was parked outside our house and the floors were being covered with protective matting. The removal chaps knew their stuff and it seemed like the house was cleared in no time. If you are looking for a good removal firm we’d recommend them (

Leicester up close – but do you know where?

Unpacking at the other end went smoothly too, though took a bit longer with a team of three guys. We had no breakages, but were at a loss where to put it all. We were meant to be downsizing and as the boxes began to stack against walls we knew we hadn’t made a good job of that aspect of the move.


Living in Cambridgeshire is going to be different. Houses cost more here than in Leicestershire, so what we have got for our money is smaller than what we had. You would think that after 11½ months living in what is basically a delivery van with windows, any house would feel spacious to us, but as the boxes continued to pile up – and up – and up – it felt like we were cramming a quart into a pint pot. Now, a couple of months in, it all feels more homely, but unpacked boxes still fill the peripheral rooms and taunt us to find a proper place for their contents. One good thing about this house is that the drive is big enough for the van and our cars, so when Rob returns from working in Coventry during the week, he can bring his current living accommodation with him. Ah, but that's another van tale!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Down to Dordogneshire

In August 2010, while we were in Norway, my (Lesley’s) family had their annual holiday in Eymet in the Dordogne. They had a great time and decided to book the same gite for 2011 and, with the kind permission of the gîte owners, we arranged to park up the van there and spend two weeks enjoying the sunshine, the pool, the food and the wine.

Not being ones to move anywhere very quickly, we decided to take a few days travelling down to the area, rather than do the whole journey in one go like the rest of the family. Besides, with the house packed ready for our imminent move, there seemed little point in just hanging around Leicester, twiddling our thumbs and nervously awaiting exchange of contracts.

Marine Parade, Dover

So on Wednesday 3rd August 2011 we left Narborough at 7 p.m. and headed south down the M1, sharing the driving for a change and reaching Marine Parade, Dover, by 11:30 p.m., where we joined the line of about a dozen motorhomes parked up for the night. We had a very comfortable sleep and woke all too soon to the sound of Rob’s alarm. By 6:45 a.m. we were away and just a few minutes later were being waved onto the next ferry at 7:20 a.m., having produced no tickets or even reference numbers, and with no checking of passports.

Leaving Dover

In the early morning light we could clearly see the French coast. The short journey passed quickly and with no checks on the French side, we were soon driving towards Boulogne.

We were not the only motorhomers on the pretty coastal road, and we saw many Germans, Dutch, Belgians, French and Brits. We passed Cap Blanc Nez, but did not stop as the car park had height restrictions. Cap Gris Nez, luckily, had a section for motorhomes, so we got out and had a short walk along the headland to the viewing platforms.

We continued along the coast road, through Boulogne and down the route national to Abbeville. Here we picked up the non-toll motorway to Rouen, and also picked up heavy rain, which stayed with us for the rest of the day.
Once out of Rouen we decided to head south on lesser roads, with the help of Garmintrude the sat nav. These turned out to be considerably smaller than we had imagined, and took us on a picturesque winding drive through a landscape of rolling wheat fields and woodlands.

Wheat fields in Southern Normandy

At about 5 o’clock we stopped for shopping and a coffee at Le Neubourg, and half an hour later we were back on our way heading south to check out the aire at Rugles. It was set in a very pretty location beside a large park in the centre of the town, but we were put off by several vanloads of gypsies parked on the grass, and decided to drive on. I don’t know if they are always there, and maybe we shouldn’t have been so wimpy, but you know how it is! After another 20 km we arrived at the small village of Chandai, where we finally stopped for the night on a simple, but fine, free aire, parking up in the emerging sunshine to cook our merguez, tripes and cassoulet. By the time we sat to eat, however, the heavens had opened once again, causing us to close the windows and endure the stifling heat until the worst of the storm passed.

On Friday 5th We set off about 10 a.m. and headed south on more small roads, passing by fields of cereal crops. At about the time we realised we had taken no photos of the attractive narrow timber framing on the farmhouses and barns, the architecture quickly changed to stone buildings in soft creamy colours. The landscape gradually became more contoured, with the wheat giving way to maize, sunflowers and then tobacco. As we neared the Loire valley we began to see our first vineyards, and by the time we reached Saumur the roads were lined with wine merchants, though 9 euros for a bottle of cremant was a bit outside what we wished to pay. (In case you’re reading this in future years, the euro stood at this time at around €1.10 to the pound).
We found a great little aire right by the Loire between Gennes and Saumur, though there was little water in sight from our riverbank spot, as the Loire itself was a bit of a trot away across the sandy flood plain.

Chênethuttes aire by the Loire

The aire was another free one, though with a charge for water this time (3 euros), and gradually began to fill up with French vans, some arriving as late as 1 a.m. The evening was lovely and sunny, so I sat out on a chair while Rob cycled off in search of cheaper cremant. We had a nice barbeque and another comfortable sleep.

Pont de Gennes near Saumur

On Saturday we set off in sunshine for our big push to the Dordogne, again heading south on smallish roads, stopping at a massive Super-U at Thouars to shop for our first weekend with the family. A trolley full of wine and beer later, and lighter in the wallet by some 170 euros, we decided to pick up the speed a bit and drove on the N10 from Poitiers to somewhere past Angoulême. I (Lesley) drove for this section, and the heavens opened up so much that I could barely see for the spray.

We somehow missed the turning off the N10 and ended up on tiny roads again. I happily left to Rob to drive the rest of the way to Eymet and we arrived at La Moutique shortly after the rest of the family at about 8:40 p.m. and were soon settled down with glasses of wine and another barbeque.

We both began Sunday with that feeling of having drunk just a bit more than was good for us, but a relaxing morning by the pool, followed by a chilled-out lunch sorted us out.

Eymet town square

In the evening we went into Eymet for their medieval festival, where we had booked tickets for the evening meal and entertainment in the town square. There were lots of stalls on a vaguely medieval theme, as well as displays of birds of prey, sword fighting and wandering troubadours. Many of the visitors were in medieval garb, as well as the stallholders, cooks and entertainers. The meal wasn’t too bad, as these large scale feasts go. Everything was tasty enough, if not particularly hot, and we were kept entertained by more little medieval acts. Audience participation was part of the deal, though the re-enactors failed to get Rob up and took my brother-in-law,Terry, instead, who had to ‘battle’ against a French member of the audience, by holding a great sword straight up in the air. British honour was upheld by Terry, but then my sister, Frances, was hauled up for the women’s version of the event and her performance wasn’t quite as good.

Medieval knights at Eymet’s medieval night

Unfortunately the end of the evening was spoiled slightly by a row over a stupid couple who stood right in front of everyone’s tables blocking the view of the fire dancing finale. Despite being asked to move by a steward, the pair just stood there and when we said ‘excusez-moi’ they just had a go. It’s the first time we’ve been insulted by being called ‘les rosbif’!

Family at medieval night

Eymet is an attractive bastide town, about 25 km south of Bergerac, with an impressive central square surrounded by timber framed houses, and a medieval castle. It caters very well to tourists, probably a bit too well for our liking, if the truth be told, with two weekly markets – a Tuesday evening one and a Thursday day one. Evening markets in France tend to be tourist events, with jewellery, china and clothes, but the Thursday market has produce, although with a definite tourist bent. The medieval evening is a summer one off, but worth going to if it’s on while you’re there. Even better was the oyster and wine day, which is another summer event. Lots to drink and eat, and if you stay to the evening it actually gets quite French with a good old disco on the town square.

Eymet night market – come for the good food on offer

I have to say though, that we have never been to another area outside Britain where  we’ve found quite so many Brits, and we’ve been to southern France many, many times over the last 30 years. We hadn’t bothered to research the area as we were tagging on to the family holiday, but we knew it was likely to be full of ex-pats. Even so, it was a shock to see just how Anglicised the place was, right down to having an interiors shop selling Farrow & Ball paint.

The crêpe stall and the evening disco at the oyster and wine fair in Eymet

We really didn’t do much over the two weeks other than relax by the pool, sample too much good wine and food, and potter about a few nearby villages. We had a good time, but it was a bit too hot for us, and sapped us of the will to get out and about in the van.

A pool is an absolute must in the summer heat

One of the pretty Dordogne villages - Beaumont du Périgord

We began our trip home on Thursday18th August. First stop was a visit to a vet in Périgueux, where we had Charlie dog checked over, Frontlined and wormed with medication we provided, for 35 euros, a much cheaper option than using the vet in Eymet for 65 euros (tip – always ring a few vets). Our appointment was late afternoon, and we only drove some 100 km after that. We spent that night on a delightful aire at the village of Pageas, just before Limoges. It was situated on the edge of the village, and had lovely views over a park and pond. We pondered on how and why such small villages maintain these smashing aires. There were hardly any shops, bars or restaurants for visitors to spend money in, so we couldn’t really see what was in it for the local area.

By Friday I had gone down with a horrible ear infection, which left Rob doing a full day of driving to get us to Calais by late evening. At 450 miles this was by far the longest all-in-one drive we’d made in the van and neither of us can say it’s a way we like to travel. The aire in Calais was full, and we contemplated just parking on the road in front of the main carpark, but it was a bit noisy. Instead, we drove a few minutes west to neighbouring Blériot Plage, and spent a very peaceful night on a carpark by the cemetery there – maybe not everyone’s taste, but at least we woke refreshed for our early morning ferry back to Britain.

After a brief stop to visit family in Surrey, we headed back to Leicester – for our last week of living in the Midlands.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

A Short Trip Around East Anglia.

Rob had been champing at the bit, pacing the floor and generally being rather annoying in the way only a bored man can be. Me? I don’t get bored. Rarely have. Besides, I have the novel still ongoing, so there is always something I should be doing. I even did a day’s paid work, so no room for boredom in my world.

Arty Happisburgh snap number 1

We should have headed off in the gloriously sunny days just after Easter, but we didn’t, and the weather during May was decidedly dull in the Midlands, with reports of gales in Scotland and rain in Wales – the two destinations we were hoping to visit. Pictures posted on the Motorhome Facts website, of vans trashed to matchsticks by 100mph winds in the Highlands, made us rethink a trip north and so we turned about to look to the gentler climate of Suffolk and Norfolk for a few days away.

Arty Happisburgh snap number 2

We packed up the van, having made a list of everything we’d had in it for the big trip by visualising the contents of the cupboards. Some list. We might as well have been utter novices – completely forgetting the camping chairs and table, which never fitted in a cupboard, so never got visualised! We hadn’t even managed to find the binoculars, so missed for a year away, but still lying in one of our packed boxes somewhere in the shed.

On Wednesday June 1st, 2011, we left family in Bishop’s Stortford and headed east. We stopped for shopping in Woodbridge, where we found possibly the best bakers we’ve come across in the UK – The Cake Shop – which had a fantastic selection of breads, including Adnams sourdough. Having stocked up with tasty goodies, we continued on to Rendlesham Forest, where we rejected the idea of stopping at the crowded campsite (close to the site of what was apparently the UK’s most famous UFO incident in 1980). Instead, we phoned one of the Camping and Caravanning Club’s small certified sites, Bailiff Cottage, at Hollesley. It turned out to be a little gem of a site, and we spent two nights on the pleasant smallholding, while we sampled the various delights on offer in this chocolate box picturesque part of Suffolk.

Bawdsey Quay, where the foot passenger ferry shuttles across the mouth of the River Deben to Old Felixstowe, was a great place to stop and picnic. There’s even a little beach and tearoom there, and the place where ground breaking radar technology was developed and first tested in Suffolk between the wars - if you’re that way inclined (

Bawdsey Quay and Bawdsey, East Lane

At Bawdsey, East Lane, we explored the old gun battery, from where we could see the earlier defences of the Martello tower. The only battles seen there now are the ones to prevent the land being swallowed up as it takes its ongoing battering from the sea. This is an ever changing landscape, with some parts seeming more shifting than others. Shingle Street is one such place, although it has been there for a couple of centuries. It’s little more than a stretch of pebbles with a few nesting terns, and does give an impression of impermanence. Strangely, it has been the centre of conspiracy theories since it was evacuated in the 1940s. The speculation centres on whether it was the site of a foiled invasion attempt by German forces, but includes rumours of a shoreline littered with burning bodies, schemes to protect the coastline with an impenetrable barrage of flames and the testing of experimental chemical bombs – exciting stuff for a tiny coastal hamlet.

Shingle Street

We moved on round the Suffolk coast on Friday, via Orford, another pretty coastal village with its quay bustling with children dangling crabbing lines into the water as fishermen and pleasure sailors come and go. Orford is also a bit of a must for any foodies, with its fresh and smoked fish, a couple of very decent restaurants and an award winning butcher. It also has a massive car park which can take quite a few motorhomes. It would have made a great overnight spot, just opposite a pub and restaurant, if it were not for the signs banning you from sleeping in your motorhome there – sigh!


Instead, we drove to one of our all-time favourite places in East Anglia – Happisburgh in North Norfolk. The cliff-top campsite there has grown progressively smaller over the 28 years we’ve been going there, with considerable parts of the village now toppled into the sea, but what’s left remains charming. 

Happisburgh's cliffs continue to be eroded

It can be glorious at Happisburgh, but is often windy – and so it was over our weekend – with battering gusts preventing us from sitting out in the sunshine. Most people set up wind breaks, not us of course, but the chap in the caravan next door made up for it by erecting what can only be described as a stockade.

Happisburgh sea defences

On Sunday we drove back to the Midlands, fortified to search for jobs and houses – or houses and jobs – we’re not sure of the order of importance there, and with a list of things to add to our list of things not to forget when we pack up the van. 


Monday, 27 June 2011

Back to Life – Back to Reality

True to form for our general rate of travel it took a week for us to get from Dover to Leicester. That’s the trouble with being away for 346 nights – getting back involves a great deal of socialising, which didn’t stop once we reached Leicester on the evening of Tuesday 26th April.

At first it felt very odd to be back in our home. We had read so many horror stories about tenants leaving with everything, including not only the kitchen sink, but the whole damn kitchen, that we were dreading what we might find, but the house was in very good condition after almost a year of being rented out. Our tenant had left some strange things behind, including a single Karen Millen stiletto in scarlet satin. We’re sure it has a story to tell!

The garden was in need of a considerable amount of work, unless a comfrey and perennial geranium lawn suddenly proves a popular feature. It was lovely to have a bath and our shower is fantastic, so in many ways the change from a smallish van to a largish Victorian house was surprisingly easy.

However, we have thought for a few years that the house is too large for us, with at least three rooms we barely ever enter, and a garden which has become a chore to manage. Oh, how we rattled about about the place after the van! So, once the round of dinners with family and friends was over we looked around, took stock and decided that without jobs in the area we had few ties in Leicester, and within a week of being home we promptly put the house on the market. I think it was looking at all our packed boxes in the study and the shed that did it for us - spend ages unpacking, or leave it all and move? It was a no brainer!

That was two months ago. We have accepted an offer on our house at the asking price, but a couple of trips to view properties between Cambridge and Bishop’s Stortford has brought it home to us that we will be downsizing considerably in our move down south. Believe it or not, even with this recession, property seems to be shifting fairly quickly and anything we have liked has been snapped up before we can get a look in, or is well out of our price range. Still, we always have the van!

Friday, 17 June 2011

The big trip 2010-2011 - some facts and figures

We know that some people - us included* - like lists and numbers, so here are some for our big journey from 9th May 2010 to 20th April 2011.
*Actually, make that just Rob, but I'm impressed with all this! - Lesley

The far corners

Our furthest North          N 70° 13’ 39”, at Nyvoll (Norway) on 10/8/2010
Our furthest South          N 36° 24’ 07”, at Cape Ténaro (Greece) on 10/1/2011
Our furthest East            E 29° 59’ 13”, at the Finnish-Russian border (Finnish side),
                                    on the Kajaani-Kostomuksha road on 19/8/2010
Our furthest West           E 01° 36’ 32”  near Berck (France) on 20/4/2011

Counting the days (and stays)

Number of nights away (Calais to Calais)     346
Number of nights sleeping in van                332
Number of places we stayed                      229
Number of places we stayed in van             227

Number of places we stayed
-      1 night                  171
-      3 or more nights       24       
-      5 or more nights        5         

Longest stay in one place                    17 days at Yíthio (Gytheio/Gytheion) in
                                                           Greece, over Christmas and New Year

Average length of stay                        1.5 days

Number of nights wild camping*                144, or 42%
Countries with most % wild camping*        (1)   Switzerland – 71% or 5 days out of 7
                                                          (2)   Norway       - 64%, or 25 days out of 39
                                                          (3)   Greece        - 59%, or 37 days out of 63
*Wild camping defined as : in a place not designated for overnighting, and without obtaining specific permission.

Number of nights on proper campsites         99

Number of free overnight stops*               188, or 54%
*Not always the same as wild camping – some designated sites are free, in other places we paid to park on an ordinary street or carpark and slept ‘unofficially’ inside.

Counting the countries

Number of countries we visited           21      (multiple visits to a country not counted)

Countries we stayed longest              Greece         63 nights
                                                    Italy            60 nights
                                                    Norway        39 nights

Countries we stayed least time           San Marino    1 night
                                                    Netherlands   3 nights
                                                    Luxemburg     4 nights

Distances and diesel

Distance Calais to Calais                    16329 miles or 26279 kilometres

Furthest driven in a day                     251 miles or 404 km, 29/5/10, from Barr in
                                                          Alsace to Vincelottes near Auxerre, France  

Number of days over 100 miles           44
Number of days under 30 miles           35    (not counting days when we didn’t drive)
Average distance per day                  66    (not counting days when we didn’t drive)
Number of days we didn’t drive at all   99

Amount of diesel used, Calais to Calais   approximately 2560 litres or 563 gallons
Average miles per gallon of diesel          29 ; up to 30 on long, fast(ish) drive ; rather less on the windy little hill roads that we so like

Money and costs

Money spent while away
total*                                      £15750, or about £45.52 per day
excluding exceptional items**      £14000 (approx) or about £40.46 per day

*total : this includes major repairs (van, bike) and replacements (camera), and renewal of insurance and road tax.

**excluding exceptional items, ie. mainly those listed above. This gives a better idea of day-to-day living costs.

Our cheapest countries – we often spent under £220 per week
from Estonia down to Bulgaria     – low prices generally
Southern Greece                      – lowish prices, but mainly as we stayed put
and didn’t use much diesel

Our most expensive countries – sometimes £330 a week or more
Norway, Sweden and Switzerland – so no surprises there.

Cost of overnight stops :

Average of all paid-for nights    £10.65
Most expensive night              £36.67, renting a holiday cabin in Finland when we had family out to visit us
Most expensive night camping   £27.69, on a campsite at Vitznau in Switzerland

Most expensive countries for (paid) accommodation :
                                                          Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway

Cheapest countries for (paid) accommodation :
                                                          Romania, Germany, Bulgaria, Denmark       

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Heading Home – Germany’s Black Forest and on to Calais

14th to 20th April 2011

So the trip draws to a close - almost a year away in a smallish van. Twenty-one countries have been visited, some for several weeks, one for less than 24 hours and a few twice, and this final leg sees us heading home.

We decided to make the most of driving back by pulling in a few days around the Black Forest in Germany. We crossed the Rhine at Laufenburg, one city but two countries, being half in Switzerland and half in Germany, and stopped a few kilometres down the road at Luttingen where we shopped for meat at a wonderful butcher’s. Having found shopping in Switzerland a bit limited in terms of good local shops and cost, we were now spoilt for choice with such lovely looking produce at prices which didn’t make us wince, baulk or pale.

Black Forest – Menzenschwand – village and stellplatz, and sunset at Eisenbach - Höchstberg

We drove up a gorge to St. Blasien, and ended the day on a little stellplatz on the edge of the pretty village of Menzenschwand. The massive farmhouses in the village were fairly typical of the area, with hefty stone ground floors and a couple of timber storeys above. They tend to be built on a bit of a hill – and there are plenty of those around here – with the rear entrance leading straight into the hay barn on the first floor. The animals used to live below this hay barn, while the living area was on first floor, with its windows facing the best view. The enormous shingle roofs of these farmhouses create a striking impression from afar. A few are still in use as farms, but a great many more are guesthouses and hotels, as the whole of the Black Forest is one of Germany’s prime holiday areas and is well set up for all kinds of tourism, including motorhomes.

Black Forest farmhouses

On Friday 15th we headed back into St. Blasien to see it properly. It’s a spick and span little tourism-orientated town, which has grown up around an over-large basilica with an accompanying monastery complex, which is now a private school. The enormous late 18th century dome is meant to emulate St. Peter’s in Rome, and it has its own beauty with an interior which practically shines in gleaming white, but the place never really took off as the huge ecclesiastical centre it was intended to be and seems decidedly out of proportion today.

St Blasien

We drove past a small lake called Titisee, with a few hotels and campsites around its edges. If you studied German at school in the 1970s it is just possible that your class followed the fortunes of Reisebüro Atlas, a travel agency that booked a trip to Titisee for a certain Frau Bender, which are two names guaranteed to raise a snigger in a class of 12 year-old boys. So I (Rob) now know that Titisee really exists. About Frau Bender I cannot be so sure.

Signpost to Titisee – so it really does exist

The rest of the day, and most of the next, was spent driving in a northerly direction through the lovely Black Forest and admiring the scenery for which it is deservedly famed. It really is chocolate-box picturesque, with rolling meadows, wooded hillsides, great expanses of forest and rocky gorges. We didn’t feel it was over-touristy either, until we hit the town of Triberg on Saturday afternoon. The roadside signs announced that we were on the cuckoo clock route, and Triberg was cuckoo clock kitsch town. It is also home to Germany’s highest waterfall, and these two features draw the crowds to the otherwise unremarkable place. We joined in the tourist spirit and had a portion of schwarzwalder Kirschtorte or Black Forest Gateau with our afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen.

Triberg kitsch

From Triberg onwards we were well and truly on the tourist highway, and it felt less remote but no less scenic than the more southerly parts. The road followed a gorge to the village of Schiltach, which was built in the same Germanic Fachwerk, or half-timbered style as the Alsace villages we had visited on the other side of the Rhine 11 months ago.  


We slept at the village of Betzweiler, where we had a quite awful meal (too large and too salty) in a charming-looking old mill building, and next day, Sunday, drove on to Freudenstadt. This town holds more memories for me (Rob), as the first place that I ever spent a night in Germany, in 1981. It is a planned town from the 1600s (though in reality much rebuilt after WW2 damage), and consists of some elegant arcaded buildings around what is apparently Germany’s largest market square. I remember the buildings very clearly, but in my memory the square was much smaller. Today the town centre was awash with people at shops and cafés and just out and about, enjoying what we took to be a special pre-Easter piece of Sunday opening. Germany in 1981 did not do this sort of thing!


From here, the so-called Black Forest High Route runs right along the summit ridge at around 1000 metres, and offers sweeping views on either side, heat-haze allowing. We dodged swarms of daredevil motorcyclists who were out enjoying the warm afternoon on the zigzag bends, and finally dropped down abruptly towards the Rhine to Sasbachwalden, a small timber-framed village surrounded by vineyards at the very foot of the hills.


We parked up with the many other motorhomes in the decent little stellplatz there, and walked into the village to sample some local wine. We also treated ourselves to a Flammkuchen, an incredibly thin pizza-style bread with bacon and cream cheese topping, to make up for our disappointing meal of the previous night. Sitting outside a bar in the lovely evening sunlight was a good way to spend what we were looking upon as our last proper day before we began heading home for real.

Sasbachwalden – a curious sign by the stellplatz

We began the last leg of our trip on Monday 18th April, but not before visiting the local wine growers’ shop and stocking up with white wines to take back with us. Soon after that we crossed the Rhine into France, and took a motorway through Alsace and the Vosges. We crossed back into Germany near Saarbrücken and got onto their (toll-free) motorway network, which we then followed through Luxemburg and into southern Belgium. By evening we were driving on a small road through the thick woods of the Ardennes and along the meanders of the river Semois, and stopped for the night at an aire beside the river Meuse at Monthermé, just over the border in France once again.

Ardennes – Rochehaut (Belgium)

To bring a pet back into the UK, it has to be seen by a vet between 24 and 48 hours prior to arrival, and we therefore had to find a suitable and willing vet’s on Tuesday 19th. We headed to the nearby town of Revin armed with a list of addresses from the tourist office at Monthermé, and struck lucky with a very helpful vet who fitted us in at a few minutes’ notice, and we emerged with Charlie’s pet passport duly stamped for the required tick and worm treatments. Revin itself was set in beautiful countryside, but had a rather depressed, post-industrial air to it.

Ardennes - Monthermé aire (France) - overnight spot

We crossed a fair portion of northern France that afternoon, and the woods and hills gradually gave way to vast agricultural prairies and the war memorials of the Somme. We had a rendez-vous that evening near Amiens with our motorhoming friends Bob and Wendy. We first met on a windy campsite in far-off Estonia last September and have been planning a follow-up ever since, and our paths now crossed as they headed south from Calais on a new trip while we headed back at the end of ours. We had a good evening of travellers’ tales and laughter, though our hopes for an evening on the town were thwarted, as the choice on a Tuesday this early in the season was limited to the village kebab shop.

With Bob and Wendy at Conty near Amiens

It was with some reluctance that we dragged ourselves away after breakfast next day, but our Channel crossing was booked, and there was still last-minute shopping to be done. The road to Abbeville went through attractive countryside, reminding us of southern England and the fact that we were nearly home. Calais seemed a surprisingly long way, and we took the motorway for the final stretch, arriving in good time for the 18:05 ferry to Dover. The security checks were the tightest we have experienced for a year, and Charlie’s microchip was scanned for the first time ever. The crossing itself was smooth on the calm mill-pond of a sea, and the weak sun on the deck was still warm. Then we were back on UK soil, 347 days since we left.